Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

The Global Decline in Violence

  1. Jan 13, 2013 #1


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    We've occasionally discussed this, but I hadn't seen this talk before:


    Basic point: we live in the most peaceful time in human history....But our media and even school system tries to convince us otherwise. Lots of good stats. And discussion: "Why are so many people so wrong about something so important?"
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2013 #2
    Weird, I was just thinking about this earlier. It's obviously a step in the right direction, for science and just for life in general. We will worry less and less about the violence issue and be able to focus more on 'important' aspects of life.

    I did have a counter thought watching the video though.. as human-human violence has declined, has human-nonhuman species violence increased, overall? Of course, on average, humans are more sympathetic towards the suffering of other species (animals/trees) through groups (PETA, Green Movement, etc.) however, it's not seeming to stop our mass-slaughtering of animals and destruction of the world, which could certainly be considered as violence. As human-human violence declines, it seems to be necessary that we find easier ways to satisfy everyone, and we found that solution by ravaging the land and its other inhabitants. Just some food for thought.
  4. Jan 14, 2013 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    By definition, a "hunter-gatherer" does nothing but pillage the land, so I would say that no, "human-nonhuman species violence" has not gotten worse, if "worse" is even an applicable description.
  5. Jan 14, 2013 #4
    Hunter gathers did not place animals in slaughtering factories from birth which they have no chance or escaping, nor did they clear-cut forests, set off atomic bombs, nor did they drill into the Earth to extract natural gases to use for energy resulting in the change of the composition of Earth's atmosphere, etc. Also, we are no longer hunter-gathers.

    The only point I'm trying to make is violence isn't necessarily exclusive to human interaction.
  6. Jan 14, 2013 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The global environmental impact of world human population might be considered to have a one to one correspondance with population growth. But that would only be true, if it is at all, if society did not progress technologically as well as by other methods. Addressing what the earth would look like with a hunter-gatherer population of 7 billion, might be one way to compare present society with the past.
  7. Jan 14, 2013 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I do not think the speaker adressed the fact that nowadays most wants and desires of individuals are met without too much difficulty, except of course, that does come with the problem of choosing from what seems an endless assortment of goods and services.
    As long as there is ample quantity and quality of food at the grocery store, or the fact that I can feel warm in my dwelling by just moving a dial, what need do I have of violence? I feel physically threatened by nothing nor nobody.

    I think MPKU touched upon something when he stated "
    If the instant satisifaction becomes problematic by ( worldwide ) shortages or non-availability then my neighbor might not be so friendly and willing to share, and might just want to be a little violent to protect his possessions or to aquire what is needed for his family, group, clan, nation.

    Case in point: the roman empire had one real reason to invade and conquer the islands of Great Britain - control of supply from the mining operations of gold, tin, copper, silver, and other materials necessary to satisfy the demands of the population back home in Rome.
  8. Jan 14, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    For what it is worth, I saw a report the other day pointing out a large increase in assaults that are survived; i.e. what would formerly have been homicides now end up as survivable assaults, thanks to modern medical care. In other words some violence is being re-categorized by technology.
  9. Jan 15, 2013 #8
    I'm too lazy to listen to it. One big factor would be demographics. Violence is usually perpetrated by men from 14 to 25, and now there are proportionally fewer of them. There was a big crime drop in the USA in the 1990's for this reason.

    With the invention of modern weapons war is no longer profitable to the nation as a whole, and instead is almost always a net loss even to the winner. With profit gone war has dropped off radically. Nowadays in modern countries special interest groups profit from war at the expense of the nation in general, so the wars are much smaller.

    As to why people have such a warped and pessimistic view of the world, a lot of it is that violence sells. No one ever sold a newspaper with headline "MILLIONS LIVING CONTENTED LIVES." The US in particular is saturated with images of violence, but little actual violence.

    I study a lot of history and it is very clear that the world is much better off than 100 or even 50 years ago. I talk to people about this and they are stunned. They just never thought of it that way. Reading about England 200 years ago, it's like Hell.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013
  10. Jan 15, 2013 #9
    You may put it that way, but I find it misleading. In Indonesia the hunter-gatherers are densely populated enough that they can't pick up and leave if they trash their own land. They are stuck where they are for life, so they must live in a sustainable way. So I guess you could call that sustainable pillage.
  11. Jan 24, 2013 #10
    Concerning your question:
    -Idealized past - people don't know how it looked like, past crime rate is not part of curriculum (there might be however, a hint when we learn about wars in Europe, both after Napoleonic wars, and especially after WW2 one might notice that this "hobby" seem to slowly fail out favour)
    -Better access to information - a century ago one African tribe could exterminate another tribe, and no-one in Europe would know about it, nowadays there would be horde of journalist soon.
    -Not calculating statistics for rare events, but merely checking - "Did I hear about committed murder in last week? Yes? Oh, no the crime is up." without checking how far it was from place that one live.
  12. Jan 24, 2013 #11
    If we are talking statistics of crime, let’s talk about statistics of what people think about it too.

    How man people are wrong? How many people really think that the world has not gotten more peaceful?

    Of course we all deplore violence and commit less violence than in previous ages. Pinker explains this development very well, but nothing of what he said was any news to me. He just presented it in a very clear way.

    Everybody hopes that we continue on this improving path. I personally don’t know anybody who thinks we are going backwards.

    Can anybody here give a link to a survey on people’s opinion about the trend of violence over recent centuries?

  13. Jan 24, 2013 #12
  14. Jan 24, 2013 #13


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I agree and would add that from a personal perspective some of the perception of violence in the UK is down to a conflict between what the public think violence is (mugging, murder, rape etc) and what the law classifies it as (all those plus a variety of non physical acts like threatening behaviour and even possession of an illegal firearm) which doesn't help when violent crime stats come out.

    Having said that in a world of decreasing violence it's not surprising that the rare events of violence get more intense media coverage. The knock on effect being that when violent crimes do happen and are reported they seem more severe and scary.
  15. Jan 24, 2013 #14
    Violence might be declining as a ratio on the population, but the world is becoming more and more populated. There are more human slaves today than there have ever been in history. I will not even go into human to animal violence, because the numbers there are simply staggering, due to the increasing popularity of the meat-based diet in the last few decades. In evolved countries the standard of what is acceptable violence and what is not might be increasing, which might partly explain why we still perceive a lot of violence (i.e. if a couple of centuries ago it might have been considered ok to decapitate a person in public, today it would be considered horrendous by most civilized cultures). Moreover whereas physical violence might have gotten more under control thanks to more protecting laws, mental violence is ever difficult to detect and in my opinion may actually be increasing.

    I think violence is a basic property of human nature: I don't think it is decreasing, rather it is mutating in different forms, which are today perhaps more acceptable. It is in my opinion possible that someone from the past would consider horrible some of the actions that are acceptable in the present, and vice-versa.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 24, 2013
  16. Jan 25, 2013 #15
    What do you want to say with that? I would put it to you that violence (including the fear of violence and consequential suffering) is a problem which affects or can affect all of us individually. It has nothing to do with absolute global numbers. Consider the two worlds: a) 1 billion inhabitants with annual violence cases of 100 million per year (10%), and (b) 10 billion inhabitants with annual violence cases of 200 million per year (2%). Do you know anybody who would prefer to live in world a)?

    Pinker says it is a "common understanding" that the world has become a more dangerous place. This is the basis for his interesting talk, but there is no evidence that the majority of people think this. It’s a straw man argument.

  17. Jan 31, 2013 #16

    the hypothesis of global decline in violence is claimed to be proven
    on wrong assumptions and uncertain historical estimates from previous
    unproven reports.

    A fine example of bad science.

    In fact the artificial definition of "violence" by King and the funny "time" binning
    would even show that Hitlers Germany was only a little more violent than
    what we have today.

    But, the more important cheating is to take funny time averages.
    Everybody in his right mind and who wants to be objective can see how
    war is a great partner of the views promoted by king

    just this for example ..

    or the potential to destroy us all with a fingertip
    not yet used! correct but the weapons are just waiting ..

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  18. Jan 31, 2013 #17
    sorry the name is Steven Pinker not King
  19. Feb 2, 2013 #18


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    In the USA alone, total (found) gun deaths per year has risen by over 3,000 since 1999. Last year, total gun deaths in the USA in 2011 surpassed 32,000.
  20. Feb 2, 2013 #19

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Point being ?
    Let us not turn this into a gun control debate.

    I submit that root causes of gun violence are not different than non-gun violence.
    However, gun violence is well studied and documented. So here's some statistics:

    Lots more suicide than homicide.



    I would guess the world trend toward civility noted by Russ is related to spead of education and affluence. In short, westernization.

    Are we moving backward in the inner cities?

    image from that Atlantic link
    http://cdn.theatlanticcities.com/img/upload/2012/12/01/gunmap.png [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  21. Feb 2, 2013 #20

    jim hardy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Shallow reporting. "If you can't be thoughtful, be exciting."
  22. Feb 2, 2013 #21


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Since when is suicide-by-gun not violent?
  23. Feb 3, 2013 #22


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Because this thread isn't about guns and we've had numerous "gun debates" and it's always the same. Since the thread seems to have gone off topic, it's time to close.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook